Jacques Léonard (Paris 1909 – Girona 1995) was a French photographer, filmmaker and actor. His father was a Roma horse dealer while his mother was a French designer and owner of a maison de couture in Paris. At the age of eight he accidentally discovered his father’s background when looking at old family photographs.
Léonard began his professional career working as a film editor at the Gaumont film studios in Paris. He then joined the theatre group, Los Vieneses, which took him to Barcelona. At the end of the 1940s he met Rosario Amaya, a Roma model for painters in the Catalonian city, and he decided to stay in Spain where he began working as a professional photographer.
Léonard worked for assorted magazines (La Vanguardia, La Gaceta Ilustrada) and was commissioned by various book publishing companies. He was the member of the nuevo avantgarde in Barcelona along with other Catalan artists. From his remarkable collection of approximately 3000 negatives (now housed in the Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona photographic archive), he created a documentation of Romani people living in the hilly Montjuïc region of Barcelona between the 1950s and the 1970s. These works demonstrated his professional ability and sensitivity and illustrate the immense value in documenting the everyday lives of Romani people from an inside perspective.
‘In fact, this is a visual inventory of all the aspects Léonard considered essential to explain gypsy [sic] culture to the wider public, as if every topic was a chapter in the index of a book’ (Jordi Calafell, curator). A documentary film about his life, entitled Jacques Léonard, el payo Chac, was directed by his grandson Yago Leonard in 2011.
Ulled, Jesús: Mitad payo, mitad gitano. Barcelona: Ediciones Destino, 2012
Calafell, Jordi; Ulled, Jesús: Jacques Léonard: Barcelona gitana. Barcelona: Arxiu Fotogràfic de Barcelona, 2011